Katsushika Hokusai, 'Under the Wave, off Kanagawa' (Kanagawa oki nami-ura), a colour woodblock print
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Edo period, about AD 1829-33
'The Great Wave'
This is perhaps the single most famous of Hokusai's woodblock prints - perhaps of all Japanese prints. It belongs to the series 'Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji' (Fugaku sanjûrokkei).
The graceful snow-clad mountain stands out unperturbed against the deep blue of the horizon. Yet it is reduced to a tiny hillock compared with the towering strength of the wave which threatens to engulf the struggling boats. Such clever, playful manipulation of the composition is a feature on many of Hokusai's works.
This monumental series was the first to exploit the new chemical Berlin blue pigment, which had recently become cheaply available from China. It provided Hokusai with a strong blue for both sky and water and had the added advantage that it did not fade. Hokusai's series was so commercially successful that the publisher, Nishimuraya Eijudô, extended it with another ten prints, printed this time with black instead of blue outlines.
Though highly valued today, several thousand impressions were taken from the cherry-wood printing blocks, literally as many as the publisher could sell.
Height: 259 mm
Width: 372 mm